Lombok: exhaustion and gratitude

Lombok is fascinating but we are simply worn out. Its been a wonderful but long 4 months since we moved out of our apartment. With 10 days left in SE Asia , we found ourselves struggling to finish up on a positive note, mentally and physically wiped. We’d seen small villages. We’d explored on scooters. We’d stayed in tiny shacks and fancy resorts and everything in between. We snorkeled with sea turtles, went to yoga classes, trekked the rice paddies. We were done, except we were not.

A trip around Lombok by scooter let us move at our own pace and find quiet and friendly places where we could reconnect with why we travel. We were tired of the hustle and the lack of schedule, but we pushed forward, scaled back, and found some peace. Now with only 5 days left in our Southeast Asian adventure, our taste for adventure is sated and we’re winding down our trip with some familiar territory and lots of coffee.

The beginning of the travel weariness started for Justin in Malaysia, 3 months after we’d moved out of our place in Seattle. He’s been cycling in and out of it ever since, trying to live in the moment but also yearning for some stability again.  For me, it kicked in with the discovery of bed bugs in our very upscale villa on Gili Air. The horrified owners did everything possible at 10 pm to get the room as clean as they could, but thé bugs were still there and I still got bit and I still couldn’t sleep just thinking about it. I don’t fault them at all, and they were so helpful and apologetic and freaked out, but getting dozens of bites in a very expensive room was the final straw of travel frustration.

We have often found ourselves stuck between traveling comfortably and traveling in a way that feels more authentic. On the nicer parts of the tourist track (Nusa Lembongan, the Gilis), you might as well be in Hawaii for the lack of local life. But when you travel away from places built to cater to tourists, you get swamped with locals, because you stand out as a tourist, and you are immediately a target. Hello Sir! Where are you going? Hello Miss! Money please! We start slipping back into the assumption we work so hard against that no one wants to have a genuine conversation with us. But often it seems there’s always an angle, and that angle is money. Justin put it well- it’s tiring to play the role of tourist for 7 weeks. 7 weeks of (mostly) surface level interactions. 7 weeks of bargaining, avoiding, budgeting, saying no no no no no without feeling like an asshole.

Its hard to feel that you’re constantly disappointing people. We know it’s a poor country. We totally understand people are only trying to make a living. But we can’t buy everything, and we don’t want to, and it’s almost impossible to escape the assault. Even sitting down to dinner in a warung (for authentic local food) opens you up to hawkers of all sorts.

There is so much good to be found, however, if you steel yourself for some minor inconvenience.  We think of ourselves as the type of people who can handle (and even enjoy) the less glamorous side of travel. We like the slow boats, we like talking to people, we like, no, love learning about local life. But the fact remains that we are a job to most of the people we meet. A guaranteed or potential source of income. We still strive to connect as humans. It brusises the ego when we aren’t acknowledged as more than a wallet, but it is because of our privilege that we even get to consider how we relate to others- our actions as travelers are entirely geared towards enjoyment and not about our economic well-being. We are lucky, very very lucky.

There are also, of course, people and moments that make every bit of discomfort totally worth experiencing. Our stay in Lombok taught us that it is totally possible to be tourists and still connect genuinely with local people.

We rented a scooter and left our bags at our homestay near Mataram. We rode to Tetebatu and checked into our homestay, where we were treated to lunch and coffee and plenty of friendly conversation. We wandered around the tiny village in the afternoon, declining tour offers and waving hello to school kids. We ate dinner early at a warung but arrived home to find ourselves invited to dinner on the porch with the family and other guests. We politely declined, as we were full, went to sleep, and woke up to sunshine and roosters and mosques and family chatter. We organized a tour over breakfast, then spent the morning exploring villages and markets and forests with our guide, before retreating from the rain to share a home-cooked meal on the floor of his house. Hours passed as we drank coffee, snacked, and chatted. The afternoon was much the same once we walked back to the homestay, flowing into a simple dinner and then into drinks, and back into coffee again. We talked music and politics and local life. We went to bed late, warm and well-fed and happy.

The next morning we visited the local school. I was so immensely humbled by the welcome we received  (excited kids and gracious teachers), and just being in the classroom made me excited to get back to teaching as soon as we settle. I can only hope we left a positive impression, because the visit certainly made a big impact on us.

After one last coffee, we headed down to Kuta Lombok, where we expected hassle and dingy tourist facilities. We got both, but we also got a welcoming hostess who insisted on making us food, a clean room and good shower, and cheap tasty warungs. Luckily for me, there was also a clinic nearby, as the bed bug bites from Gili Air kept coming up and developed into a full blown allergic reaction. After 2 days of unbearable itchiness, a benadryl injection and some prescription strength antihistamines finally got it under control. It wasn’t a pleasant experience, but I was so grateful we had travel insurance so the decision to get treated was easy to make.

Our second day in Kuta was meant to be all about the beach, but it rained most of the day, so we relaxed and read instead. We did make it out for some afternoon beach time, and found the surrounding  beaches beautiful, rugged, and surprisingly empty, save a few hawker families and a handful of tourists. Note to future travelers: Kuta beach itself is not great, but worth a walk if you’d like a little more local flavor- beach boys, kids, dogs, and picnicking families abound. The beaches East and west are much nicer.

Segar beach

Mawun beach

We’re slowly winding down now, we’ve made it back to Sengiggi/Mataram and are mostly spending the days drinking coffee, reading, and trying to fix our MacBook (such a fun way to spend 10+ hours and counting). It’s a good time to reflect on the things we’ve learned on this trip so far and to absorb a little deeper the experiences we’ve had. There’s a lot to process, but amidst our exhaustion there is an immense amount of gratitude to the people we’ve met and places we’ve seen. We may be done with Indonesia for now, but we have so much more to learn from this country, and can’t wait to make it back again.

Slow boat!
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